July 22, 2008

Families Stretch Food Dollars With Reduced-Cost Programs, Pantries

By Mary Ann Ford, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

Jul. 22--BLOOMINGTON -- Mary Embry saves money on her family's food bill every month by taking advantage of the Share Food program. "I've been doing it three or four years," she said. "It comes in handy so much." |

For $17, she gets a "basic" package that has a variety of food including meat, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. She usually buys two of the basic packages and sometimes two of the "extra value" items. This month, there were four extra value items to choose from: a steak and shrimp combo box, quick and easy meal kits, a roasting pack and a Fourth of July pie box.

The food doesn't feed her family for a month, but it certainly helps out.

The high cost of food has most people looking for ways to stretch their food dollars. For some, that means using programs that offer food at a reduced cost. For others, it means going to free food pantries for the first time. Local pantry coordinators have seen an increase in use by first-time families.

The Share Food program is one of two in the Twin Cities that offers quality food at discounted prices. The other program, Angel Food, is operated locally by Brothers and Sisters in Christ (BASIC) Outreach. It offers a $30 basic package that has enough food to feed a family of four about a week and a single person for a month. There also are several specials each month available for an additional cost.

Anyone who has the money to purchase the food can participate. Share Food's slogan is, "If you eat, you qualify." Both programs take the Link card and food stamps.

Elvis Mensah, president of BASIC Outreach, said Angel Food is attracting about 250 people every month, a slight increase over the winter months.

"We're getting about 500 food orders," he said. "The menus have been modified. The specials are really good; there's more meat and there's fruit in the summer."

In contrast, numbers are dropping at the three Twin City Share Food sites, and that might be seasonal.

"When we first started, we got near 100 people," said Joyce Topping, who coordinates the Share Food site at The Salvation Army in Bloomington. "Right now we're getting about 50 people."

Lorene Smith, who helps coordinate the distribution at Hilltop Mobile Home Park, has seen a similar drop. "I think a lot of people have gardens and some are on vacation," she said.

Smith and her husband, Ken, have participated in Share Food for about 12 years. They opened the Hilltop site after retiring and moving to Bloomington.

"It's an ideal program for this area," she said. "There are a lot of elderly people on fixed incomes."

Share Food asks participants to do two hours of community service. But Smith and Topping said that guideline is not stressed.

"In a month's time, surely they do something to help somebody," Smith said.

Charlotte Talkington, who coordinates the Share Food distribution at New Vision Church of God in Normal, doesn't quite understand why numbers are dropping. "You would think people would be scrounging to get more food for less," she said.

Pat Turner, executive director of the Center for Hope in Bloomington, thinks some budgets are stretched so thin, people can't even afford the nominal fee charged by Share Food and Angel Food.

Her free food pantry has seen an increase in clients.

"It's different. We're getting families who haven't done food pantries before," she said.

Darlene Watson-McClom, coordinator of the City of Refuge food pantry, has seen the same thing. "There area lot of new faces and more families coming to the pantry," Watson-McClom said.

Don Winterland, who runs Ministry & More in Bloomington with his wife, Linda, said their pantry recently got "really busy" but he also believes many in need of groceries don't always have the gasoline needed to drive to the pantries.

"Clients are wondering if the amount of groceries they get are worth the gas to go," he said.


To see more of The Pantagraph, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.pantagraph.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.